Top positive review
48 people found this helpful
"...a stylist of exceptional cadence, tact and ingenuity". A pretty damn good review....
on 1 November 2006
I've just finished reading a review in the Telegraph on this book and here is part of it:
In Connemara, Listening to the Wind Robinson walks the mainland region where he has lived for the past 20 years - it stretches for 40 miles to the north-west of the city of Galway, a vast intricacy of stone, bog, involuted shoreline and scattered islands - in search of the same emotional and intellectual answer to the ground at his feet. The book begins by acknowledging another's passage across the same territory, in the story of a ghillie who died by the river he had worked for years.
His breath, says Robinson, was "dispersed into the air to be degraded by the hiss of rain or eroded molecule by molecule in the Brownian fidget of drifting pollen". Humanity is here merely one particle among countless others, an anonymous atom at the edge of the world.
Which is not to say that Connemara is in any sense sentimental about its author's, or anybody's, oneness with nature. The land that Robinson maps (he is also one of the area's principal cartographers: a cultivator, as he says, of the compass rose) is a palimpsest of human presence, much of it intrepid or tragic.
He recounts the story of Alexander Nimmo, the largely forgotten engineer of much of Connemara's infrastructure, details the protracted decimation of the bogs, and laments the long dwindling of island life.
"The keystone in a triumphal arch of suffering," he writes, is the historical fiasco of the potato famine - the desolate beauty of Connemara is haloed with spectres, and there are famine graves beneath the hedgerows about Robinson's village. "We find ourselves," he notes, "in a world compacted out of our forebears."
It ought to be obvious by now that Robinson is a stylist of exceptional cadence, tact and ingenuity. This is a writer who can describe a patient heron as "a monk grown grey and sinewy by fast and prayer", who on meeting a lone bull in a far-flung field remarks that the beast "seemed to incarnate the baffled surliness of a declining way of life".
At their most intricate, measured and exalting, his sentences sound like the sermons of John Donne, or the elaborate essays of Sir Thomas Browne. And yet: there is nothing antiquarian about this style; it may echo the voices of the great writers who have passed before him - Roderick O'Flaherty in the 17th century, Thackeray in the 19th - but Robinson's is a medium woven as much out of modern environmental science, land art and fractal geometry as it is from the sonorous periods of the past.
There has been a resurgence, in recent years, of art and writing about place and landscape. In books by writers as dissimilar as Iain Sinclair and Richard Mabey, in the essays of Rebecca Solnit and certain passages in W G Sebald, in the art of Tacita Dean and the films of Patrick Keiller, a sense of space persists: anxious, melancholy, novel or nostalgic.
Despite their varied talents, none of these can really be said to have attained Robinson's extraordinary intimacy with his subject, nor to have marshalled such a lucid array of resources as he deploys in practically every paragraph.
Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that the west of Ireland was "the last pool of darkness in Europe". Robinson's Connemara is but the first volume in a projected trilogy; it already reads like a light shone on his adopted home's distant past, and on the whole planet's future.